Dr Miriam Stoppard: Being locked down has put a huge strain on the nation's mental health
Social distancing and managing community health is such a balancing act. What’s already obvious during this pandemic is the nation’s mental as well as physical health has come under worrying pressure.
And several groups of people may be more vulnerable than others to the effects of the crisis – effects such as isolation, troubled family relationships, disrupted education, money worries and psychological problems.
Added to this are the pressures of job losses and lost income. Women, young people and those already poor will be faring the worst.
The Government’s actions in the pandemic play a key role in this balancing act.
Advising or compelling people to self-isolate at home risks serious social and psychological harm. Quarantine also adds PTSD symptoms to the mix.
The effects are worsened by prolonged isolation, fear of the infection, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies and information, financial loss, and stigma, says Margaret Douglas of Edinburgh University and colleagues in the BMJ.
These effects are less when quarantine is voluntary, and communication is good, keeping quarantine short, providing food and other essential supplies, and protecting against financial loss.
In Scotland, a third of the population live alone and nearly half of them are of pension age. Older people are less likely to go online so they’re at particular risk of social isolation, which in itself is a serious threat to wellbeing.
The brutal truth is that loneliness can increase our risk of death by nearly a third.
We don’t know if prolonged periods of social distancing and isolation will have similar effects.
People who are on low incomes, living in overcrowded housing or in poor physical or mental health are at higher risk. At the very least these people need online and telephone support, especially those living alone.
Lockdown has also kept family members in each other’s pockets all the time, with the potential to cause violence in some unstable homes.
It’s important vulnerable families get community support including safety advice for women at risk of abuse and allocation of hotel rooms.
Then there’s been the added stress of school closures on parents having to home-school children while trying to work from home themselves.
It’s a burden that may have fallen disproportionately on women in this pandemic – with young people in families that lack space to study and access to a computer hit hardest.
Provision of food for children eligible for free school meals, and outreach support for the most vulnerable are so vital in these times – and many youngsters will need extra support on return to school.